Trust is fundamental: A recent reminder from the world of politics

Two weeks ago Incite won the Trusted Partner award, in partnership with O2, at the AURA Awards. The award was connected to a significant and long-running project but at heart, it reflected the impact good research can make within an organisation, and it has got us thinking about some of the fundamentals of trust.

Trust has become a key battleground in our politics in recent months, as politicians compete to convince us of their integrity. A Prime Minister is leaving office, primarily, because he has struggled to convince colleagues and the public that he is trustworthy. His political successors are expending buckets of energy, attempting to convince us that they are ‘more trustworthy’. The Opposition have made the issue of trust central to their proposition as an alternative government.

Brands have long been aware of the power of trust. They have nurtured it, because it can shape perceptions and influence behaviour. So, what can brands learn about trust from politicians’ mistakes?

1 / Proactive commitments inspire trust

We have all heard people say things like ‘put your money where your mouth is’. The implication is that they doubt what you are saying and need proof to believe you. In others words their trust in you is already in doubt.

But there is another way. If you are prepared to get out in front and make strong, proactive commitments (with clear negative consequences if you fail), then it is more likely trust will be kept. Brands can make strong proactive commitments every day – next time ask yourself, is it better to react and sow doubt, or is it better to be proactive and retain trust?

2 / Act fast to retain trust

They say first impressions are powerful. We typically take this to mean first impressions of other people, but what if the same thing applies to perceptions of a negative situation?

Complaints occur and crisis happens. When it does, silence is not an option. It creates space for people to come to their own conclusions about what has happened, and who is to blame. And being slow to react is as bad; if the silence goes on too long, it can seem uncaring or incompetent.

It takes time to create an appropriate response to a complex situation, but recent events have shone a light on the pitfalls of failing to react swiftly. The crucial message appears to be that trust is more likely kept if you keep customers informed and manage their expectations. Initial acknowledgement with the promise of action to come appears to be the right strategy.

3 / Apologies can restore trust but not if it becomes a habit loop

Sometimes things go wrong, sometimes customers are angry and disappointed. In these moments, we know that a powerful apology can have a transformational effect on any relationship, but only if the commitment to fix or change is sincere.

When dealing with customers ask yourself, are the same problems repeating themselves? If so, question if your commitment to fix or change is real. And if you find yourself issuing regular apologies, ask yourself – are we getting diminishing returns? Are we squandering the trust-restoring power of a sincere apology?

4 / A human voice is crucial

People can tell when you are not being ‘real’ with them. It does not really matter if you are speaking in person or reading text. If it does not feel believable, suspicion creeps in and trust is undermined.

Sometimes we cannot create satisfactory outcomes for customers, but we can always ensure we are communicating with empathy and sincerity. As an organisation, ask yourself if empathy and sincerity is central to what you do? When things cannot be made right, retaining trust is all that matters – there will be future opportunities to impress, but not if trust is fatally undermined.

We were incredibly proud to win the AURA award for Trusted Partner last week. Trust is complex and personal, but we strive to act as a trusted partner in all our client engagements. If you are interested in exploring the knotty issue of trust and what it means for your brand do get in touch.